Dr. Steve Walcott (Hooper Atchley) is a New York nerve specialist. He is in town for a medical convention. Steve is staying at the Clarendon Arms Hotel. His friend Investigator Thorwaldt “Bill” Cornish (William Stage Boyd) visits him at his hotel. He shows Bill an ear bone that he found in the fireplace.
Steve had been looking out the window with binoculars at the activity in the street below. Bill has a pair of glasses that act like high powered binoculars. While Steve is looking out the window with Bill’s glasses he suddenly falls to the floor. Bill calls the front desk and asks for the hotel doctor. The hotel manager, Mr. Gordon (Huntley Gordon), the desk clerk Rankin (Lloyd Whitlock) and the hotel doctor, Dr. Bronson (Phillips Smalley), arrive at the suite. Dr. Bronson tells Bill that Steve just fainted and the wound on his head is from hitting it when he fell.
After they leave Bill tells Steve that he didn’t faint, he was shot at and grazed. He tries an experiment. Dressing up a coat rack to look like a person Bill puts it in front of the window. A shot from a window across the street hits the dummy and sends it to the floor. Bill and Steve go across the street to check out. While they are looking around the apartment they hear someone unlocking the door so they hide. A woman enters and calls out for someone named Erich. After she leaves Bill uses his glasses to read her lips. She tells the cab driver to take her to an address on Washington Street.
Bill confronts the hotel about Steve being shot. They deny it. He demands that Steve’s room be changed. They comply. The new room happens to be on the opposite side of the court from the manager’s office. Bill uses his glasses again to read lips and find out what they are saying. Bill figures out that something else happened at the hotel previously and they are hiding it. They are all invested in the hotel and don’t want it to have a bad name.
Bill and Steve then go to the address on Washington Street. They learn the woman’s name is Enid Van Buren (Claudia Dell). The owner of the address is her boyfriend Erich (John Harron). Erich tells them an unusual story about Enid and her brother staying at the hotel. Her brother wasn’t feeling well so Dr. Bronson tended to him. Enid had to go out of town for a couple days. When she returned the hotel told her that they never heard of her or her brother and that she never stayed at the hotel. Enid ended up being committed until Erich got her out of the psychopathic ward but they are no closer to finding out what happened to Enid’s brother.
“The Midnight Warning” AKA “Eyes of Mystery” was released in 1932 and was directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet. It is a pre-code mystery thriller.
It’s a strange little movie. At just a little over an hour long the movie is fast paced. The film starts out very interesting and mysterious. By the ending when everything is summed up it sort of falls apart. First there is no such thing as an ear bone. Ears are cartilage and nowhere near hard enough to make it through a fire. Second, why would the funeral director burn a body in a hotel room fireplace instead of the mortuary? Didn’t he have a crematorium? Can a hotel room fireplace get hot enough to burn a body? Wouldn’t there be more residue than just one little piece of bone? There are a lot of issues with the film.
Another issue is their treatment of Enid. First they send her to a psychopathic ward. When she gets away they try to make her actually go insane. When at the end everything is explained Enid is fine and happy and all is forgiven. Not likely.
What makes this pre-code is that the instigators of all of the problems end up basically getting away with what they are doing. It’s all explained nice and pat as if they did what they were legally allowed to do, but they psychologically tortured a woman. And they were smug about it.
Despite the movie’s weird and impossible assumptions everything up to the end was fascinating and engaging. It's even weird for a 30's style mystery.